Alzheimer's Disease and Dementia: What's the Difference?

It happens almost imperceptibly — a misplaced wallet, a forgotten word or name, short-term memory loss. These incidents can be normal blips in memory, but sometimes they can be indications of a more serious cognitive degeneration. The fear of being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease can keep a person in the state of denial. In fact, new figures show half of those who are diagnosed with dementia waited at least six months before seeing their doctor.

The Alzheimer’s Association says that of more than 6000 people surveyed, nearly a quarter of list Alzheimer’s disease as the second most frightening condition they most fear getting, behind cancer. More than 80% believe that the disease is a normal part of aging, and nearly 40% of people believed that only those with a family history of the disease could be affected.

But Alzheimer’s disease is not a normal part of aging. It's a disease that causes brain cells to malfunction and ultimately die. Neurons are the chief type of cell destroyed by Alzheimer's disease. That causes memory changes, erratic behaviors and loss of body functions. It’s a sad fact that Alzheimer’s has no survivors. The disease is the 6th leading cause of death in the United States.

June is Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month. The Alzheimer’s Association is asking everyone affected by the disease to show their commitment to the cause by wearing purple and posting to social media sites like Facebook. As they say on their website, “Everyone who has a brain is at risk to develop Alzheimer's—but everyone can help to fight it.”

A number of celebrities have banded together to support Alzheimer’s awareness. Recently, actor and Alzheimer’s activist Seth Rogan spoke to congress about the need to allocate more funding to research and eradicate the disease that strikes so many, including his mother-in-law.

BradleyCooper

Bradley Cooper proudly promotes purple to #ENDALZ.

All Alzheimer’s disease is dementia but not all dementia is Alzheimer’s. Dementia is an overall term that describes a wide range of symptoms. Although Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia, there are a variety of other dementia types. These include Vascular dementia, or post-stroke dementia, which accounts for about 10% of all dementia cases. Dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB) sufferers are more likely than people with Alzheimer's to have early symptoms such as visual hallucinations and muscle rigidity. Parkinson's disease, frontotemporal dementia, normal pressure hydrocephalus are also types of dementia. Some of these diseases are treatable. Unfortunately, no cure or treatment slows or stops some of these progressive dementia diseases, like Alzheimer’s. But there are drug treatments that may temporarily improve symptoms.

Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) is often, but not always, a precursor to dementia. If you’ve been diagnosed with MCI, or are caring for a senior with Mild Cognitive Impairment, there’s a lot you can do to ease the ease and reduce the signs of MCI. For example, it’s been found that, coupled with a healthy diet, regular exercise can have a very positive impact on the brain and cognitive function.

Caregiverlist® urges if you are a senior caregiver whose family member or client presents any symptoms of memory loss, to seek the counsel of a doctor. Early detection is key in order to benefit from treatment and to plan for the future. Some dementia disorders are treatable — such as depression, drug interactions, thyroid problems, excess use of alcohol or certain metabolic disorders, such as a vitamin B12 deficiency .

If you or your beloved senior has Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, share your story with the world. Reach out to us on Twitter @Caregiverlist and don't forget to use #gopurple and #endalz to join the conversation. It’s time we destigmafy Alzheimer’s and other memory loss diseases.

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